There was blood in the water on Saturday afternoon when the Cronulla Sharks recorded their biggest ever win over the North Queensland Cowboys, piling on 30 unanswered first half points in a 48-10 annihilation at Kogarah.
Chad Townsend starred as the Cronulla faithful watched on, with the halfback setting up three tries and rebounding from a nightmare run with goal kicking, successfully converting all eight tries.
Cronulla coach John Morris was justifiably pleased with his team’s “tradesmen-like performance” as the men from the shire completed 42/50 sets, conceding only the one penalty.
“I think we certainly set the game up in the first half,” Morris said.
“To go into the sheds with that sort of scoreline, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that.”
Cronulla recuperated from a string of early injuries, scoring five tries in the last 25 minutes of the opening stanza, leading a tormented Cowboy’s outfit 36-6 at oranges.
The Sharks circled early when winger Mawene Hiroti (15 carries for 151 metres) crossed in the opening minutes after a slick set play from five-eight Matt Moylan (11 carries for 66 metres) putting the youngster over in the corner.
The Cowboys’ only moment of respite came moments later when a stray pass from Townsend resulted in flier Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (12 carries for 215 metres) picking up the scraps to run 85 metres to score.
Josh Dugan (4 carries for 29 metres) scored moments later off a pinpoint cross-field grubber from his half, with the former NSW representative beating speedster Tabuai-Fidow to the ball.
But it was a case of history repeating itself when Cronulla found themselves down two of their stars with Dugan forced off the field with a head knock and winger Ronaldo Mulitalo suffering a suspected MCL injury early in the opening half.
Concussion caused chaos for both sides with Cowboy’s duo Justin O’Neill and Jordan McLean also ruled out late in the first half after both failing their HIA’s.
But it was Cronulla who would recuperate after a reshuffle with Connor Tracey (20 carries for 182 metres) making the most of his new position on the left edge when he crossed in the 27th minute.
With the game in the balance, a 40/20 from hooker Blayke Brailey (five carries for 55 metres) would prove the dagger in the heart of every Cowboys supporter, as the Sharks ran in three tries to end the half.
Moylan, Kennedy and Tracey all crossed before the break, in a seven-minute blitz which halted any chance of a Cowboys’ comeback.
“To have some key players out as well and to perform like that is very pleasing,” Morris said.
“They’re all pulling their weight and getting the job done.”
Second rower Teig Wilton (26 carries for 216 metres) was more than impressive in his season debut, scoring his first ever NRL try, breaking the deadlock after a tense start to the second half.
Kennedy (16 carries for 173 metres) crossed late to complete his double, while dejected Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes (20 carries for 179 metres) scored a consolation try in the dying minutes.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten struggled to find answers when he fronted the media, addressing rumours over the future of out-of-favour forward Josh McGuire (13 carries for 119 metres).
“At the moment we’re a team not willing to build a game,” Payten said.
“We all need to get on the same page, and we all need to pay the price physically.”
“We’ve had a conversation with his management and if he’s [McGuire] able to secure his future beyond next year we’re not going to stand in his way.”
The Sharks now sit inside the top eight boasting a 2-2 record as they prepare for their clash against an injury riddled Roosters side, while the dejected Cowboys prepare for another tough away game against the Tigers.